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The bathroom seemed the best place to go. I could feel the spell wrapping around me, and I tried to breathe as it tightened around my rib cage. It wasn’t the easy thing I’d ever had to do. Whatever had been used made me want to curl up on the floor and sleep, but I knew that letting the spell get the better of me was going to be a mistake. Then my cousin would grab me the way he’d been threatening to since he realised what I could do, because he needed me for the next step in his plan to take over the world. Laughing at him when he asked me for help probably hadn’t helped things.

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There was a light. I remember that better than anything else. I felt it drawing me towards it, in such a way I knew I wouldn’t have been able to stop what was coming from happening, and then I stepped into it. I glanced over my shoulder, at the car in the ditch and my body. I was dead, so, logically, wherever I found myself must have been the afterlife. Yet, when I looked around, I found I was surrounded by tall trees, which made me think I was in a forest… and I definitely wasn’t expecting there to be a forest in the afterlife. Slowly I looked around, trying to work out where I was. At the same time I wasn’t entirely certain I wanted to know. I was definitely dead. I couldn’t have survived the crash.

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The first thing Melody noticed was the sound of snoring. At first she wasn’t really awake, so she thought it was the end of a dream, because she was sure she could remember her car going into a tree and a vampire saving her life. It seemed so utterly impossible that even when she was awake enough to open her eyes that she couldn’t quite believe that she could hear snoring. Being able to hear someone snoring, when it wasn’t something she would normally hear in her bedroom, could mean only one thing. Her dream hadn’t been a dream. Slowly, breathing deeply in an attempt to stop herself from panicking, she sat up and stared down at the vampire who had saved her life.

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Father was never the sort of man who felt the need to explain the orders he was giving me and he didn’t when he sent me to Ildieu with a scroll in my hand that described how to create a sanctuary using blood magic. The mages of Ildieu didn’t use blood magic, because they’d lost all knowledge of it when they willingly removed their own memories, so no one would know how bad things had become. Unfortunately we didn’t know anywhere near as much about blood magic as we once did, either, after our libraries were burnt down during the wall. All we’d ended up with was a few left over scrolls, most of which were no use to anyone at all. Maybe, if Father had told me he didn’t have any idea of what would happen to me if I used that magic, I never would have created the Hollow. Being immortal was never something that I wanted. Unfortunately that’s exactly what happened to me when I used a magic I didn’t know enough about – and in the end it was my own stupid fault.

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Jared watched the window. “We shouldn’t be doing this.”

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Even though Fintan had been told to wait until morning, when the elders would explain what needed to happen, he knew if he did that something bad was going to happen. He could feel it. Being unbonded for as long as he had… keeping the magic inside him had been hard enough before she arrived, but knowing she was there, that he could share the burden for the first time, made things much harder. Glancing around, he made certain that no one had seen him before using his magic to unlock the door to the house, hoping that everyone was asleep, because he didn’t think he could explain what he was doing once he was inside the house. They didn’t know what it was like to be unbonded. All of them had found their other half within a year and he’d been waiting for a decade, because that was how long it had taken to find her.

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Memories of the night before battered Sam from the moment he woke up. The face of the vampire who had left him for dead; his deceased friends and teammates; Alice with tears in her eyes; and the voice, at times his father’s, at others his mother’s, that kept telling him he was making a huge mistake by becoming a blood sucker. It wouldn’t matter to either of them that he hadn’t been ready to die. He knew that he’d never see them again because of the choice he’d made and a small part of him regretted hurting them. Until the night he’d met Alice his beliefs had been the same as his parents. All vampires were evil. Getting to know Alice had taught him how wrong he was.

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Everyone heard the post come through the letterbox. No one moved for several minutes. It was another day that would change the lives of multiple people. On the other days I’d been lucky. There hadn’t been a letter for me on the doorstep, but we knew it might not last, and finding it was something none of us wanted to do. When far too much time had passed I stood. I couldn’t wait any longer. I needed to know. Before I was anywhere near the pile of letters I could see it. People had posted what it looked like for others, so I knew it was there. What I didn’t know was which of us it was for. Even though it would be hard I wanted it to be for me. Having to watch my baby sister step onto one of those ships was something I really didn’t want to do. We all knew it was just the World Government clutching at straws. Nothing else they’d done had worked the way they wanted it to. That, for some reason, led to them thinking they should send some of us out there, to find new worlds to colonise. Like we believed it was actually going to happen.

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The island was safe. Crossing the sea hadn’t been a mistake. Breathing deeply, the wind blowing my hair, I stepped off the ship. When I was told about it I had no reason to believe there would be any problems. In all the time Hekate had been talking to me she hadn’t caused me to make any mistakes. Finding out there was somewhere safe… it was our only option. Considering what was happening it had been our only option for a long time, but until I was told about the island I had no way of knowing it was there. Some of the others had only followed me out of hope. They didn’t believe me. They were still having trouble coming to terms with the fact I spoke with a deity, as it had seemed so impossible, and yet I had brought them to safety. It was the first time we had been safe for a long time.

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Clouds filled the sky. They’d been disappointed too many times before for Kaori to let herself get excited, even though she couldn’t help hoping it might finally happen. She watched closely. When something fell from the sky, something that definitely wasn’t rain, she smiled. Relief flooded her body as she ran the bell to tell everyone to get inside. Instead of it being rain it was what they’d needed for far too long. In not time at all the streets were filled with nuggets.

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There was nothing. Moving was… I didn’t dare do anything more than breathe. I had my feet on the very edge of… something I wanted to call land, but couldn’t be certain was land, because I was mostly lost in the nothing below me. Doing anything wrong would lead to me falling into it, and that really wasn’t something I wanted to happen. At the same time I didn’t know how I was going to be able to stop it. Fear was definitely getting the better of me, and I never thought that would ever happen. Not after everything I’d already been through. Finding out how wrong I was about that wasn’t the nicest of things to happen.

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Without opening my eyes I rolled to turn my phone alarm off. Instead of finding my phone, in the place where it should have been, my fingers hit a lamp. I lay still for a few seconds, my fingers on that lamp. It was real. I could feel it, even though I wished I couldn’t. The familiar sound of my alarm continued, as I accepted the fact it had happened to me, because I didn’t have any other option. Everyone had heard stories about people who’d found themselves living out the storyline from one of their favourite books, becoming a part of one of the T.V. series they watched, or learning the truth about a game they’d played. No one ever really thought it would happen to them until it did. I’d never once thought I would be one of those people, only I was, so I needed to work out where I was… and who I’d become.

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Another missing person. Sighing, I looked down at the picture I’d been given. Like the others she was a teenage girl, who’d become more secretive recently, and that told me exactly what I was dealing with. Even though Willow had made it obvious anyone using the humans around them would be punished harshly that didn’t stop it. Far too many of them didn’t give a damn what she said, because, to them, she wasn’t the true Queen. Instead she was someone standing in the way of a true monarch, one who would make the right choices. If they found out she’d come to me, to ask for my help, they would have been even more determined to take her throne from her. Unlike them she understood. Being human meant my people trusted me, and, slowly, word had passed from one parent to the next. I was the person to come to if they needed help to find a lost child.

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Once Aurora was across the border she felt a weight lift from her shoulders. It had been longer than normal since the last time she’d managed to visit her father and Griffin, which made her feel guilty, but there seemed to be more work to do than ever before. Thanks to her help more people had been surviving blooming, so she was spending more of her time attempting to learn about the different powers. Her notebooks were slowly filling with information that had been lost when all the books on magic had been burnt. Everything had to be fitted in around her work at the library, which was getting harder because no one had any control over when someone bloomed, but she couldn’t just stop working. She knew she needed some time out more than she ever had done before. It was just a case of trying to work it in around her shifts, people blooming, and all the research she was doing.

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Lucille stared down at the envelope. She knew what it held, which was why she couldn’t bring herself to open it. Becoming a World Walker was the only thing she’d ever wanted to do and she’d spent nearly nine years studying each of the thirty-four worlds it was possible for a Walker to visit. The exams were there to test a potential Walker on their knowledge of all the worlds they wished to travel to, so most would study only the worlds they were most interested in. To pass any one of the exams took a lot of work because Walkers needed to know everything about the world they wanted to visit. Knowing the geography of the world was important, as was knowing where all the doors were in that world. Some were patriarchal societies, others were matriarchal, and some were neither. Each one had its own beliefs and laws. Almost half the worlds had magic, while the others had different technologies. There were animals that were indigenous in certain worlds that had never even existed in others. In some cases it could be very easy to confuse one world with another.

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Orla wrapped an arm around her waist as she looked at the priest of Anubis who had led the winter solstice ritual. He wasn’t a true priest, but one of the many fake priests who had no connection to his deity, and for that reason she didn’t think he had the right to lead a ritual. Unfortunately there was nothing she could do about it. Artemis had told Orla, several times, that she needed to keep her head down and not draw attention to herself in order to keep herself safe. As the only person in her village who knew of the existence of North Square, and had some warning that change was coming soon, she had to be there for anyone who might need her. It just wasn’t an easy thing to do.

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Like everyone else they’d both heard the rumours. The Dragons were back. Although that did mean admitting that the Dragons had existed in the first place, which was something no one had done for centuries. When they disappeared they left no trace of themselves behind, no history, no bones, nothing whatsoever, and that meant that there had been no proof that the stories everyone had read since the rumours started were more than that. Yet that was all beginning to make sense, as much as everyone hated to admit it, if the Dragons had been kept as slaves since the end of the war and those who were close to death chose to use the last of their life energy in order to hide their city.

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Morgan sat on the sofa that was in the corner of the reception, playing with the white ribbon that was tied around her wrist. Every day she spent at least a few minutes watching the comings and goings of the people at the Donor House. Normally nothing much happened. Vampires would enter the House, scribble their name into the book, and then go on to do whatever it was they were going to do. Some were there to feed, while others just wanted to enjoy being a part of the community. Donors would scribble their name into the book, leave the House, and go to spend time with old friends or shop. It was easy to tell the donors who had been in the House the longest, like Dominic, because they didn’t leave the House very often. Over time it became a comfort blanket and Morgan had found that she didn’t want to leave as much as she had at the beginning.

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The Many Worlds of K. A. Webb

July 2017

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